Harley and Sue Eagle, a husband and wife team who have worked together for the last 18 years to address issues that face Indigenous Peoples, are facilitating “The Blanket Exercise” on Monday, June 22 from 6–9 PM in the Lodge Room of the Lower Native Sons Hall, 360 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay. Refreshments will be served at 5 PM. The public is invited to attend this free event.
The Eagles’ long careers have been centered around advocacy, social justice issues, and restorative and transformative justice. They have worked tirelessly toward inter-cultural relationship-building between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The Eagles have focused on education as a means to establishing and maintaining mutually respectful, authentic relationships through awareness of the past. They believe education about issues impacting historical interactions between Indigenous Peoples and those of the dominant culture serves as a catalyst for changing behaviours that have become generational.
“Education is the first step,” acknowledged Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is the response he gives to all people who have asked, “How can I help—what can I do?” Using a simple symbolic gesture of stepping onto a blanket, Harley and Sue Eagle’s interactive workshop engages the heart and the mind as it begins an educational exercise to transform attitudes that have become generationally embedded.
In the Blanket Exercise, participants step onto blankets that represent what many First Nations peoples called “Turtle Island”—North America—and take on the roles of First Peoples and Euro-American colonizers. They experience a deeper understanding of the history of colonization of the lands now called Canada and the impact of that history on the descendents of its original caretakers.
“It is a history, remarked Sue Eagle, “that pre-dates the Residential Schools by centuries—earlier even than the 1823 Doctrine of Discovery by John Marshall that invalidated Aboriginal possession of land. In the Blanket Exercise, people learn about the bigger picture, a constellation of oppressive factors that are systemic. These factors contribute to major issues such as the 1200 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.”
The Blanket Exercise,” noted Sue Eagle, “was a prominent feature of the events in Ottawa surrounding the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is an educational exercise that brings awareness of how oppressive practices that were generated through colonization policies of the past and have permeated our present realities.” Harley Eagle added, “The Blanket Exercise does this through providing context, providing an opportunity for participants to explore and express their own discomforts. It helps people learn how to hear and to be courageous in a safe, respectful environment as they share from the heart.”
The just released TRC Final Report, entitled Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, had a message for every person in this country. The Report defines the idea of reconciliation: “It’s about coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among people, going forward.”
Hartley Eagle, commented that, “Like the Commission, we seek through The Blanket Exercise to hear from as many people as possible. In this facilitated exercise, everyone has input. That helps answer questions about why colonial powers and processes happened and contextualizes the impact. We can discover, together, the patterns of colonization that have happened on this continent and others by examining the names, faces and dates associated with a conflict situation that is generations old. Understanding the conflict reveals strategies for resolving the conflict. In an hour and a half, history takes on a different perspective. It’s as not hopeless as it may sound—it’s really the way forward.”
Harley Eagle noted that a common comment from participants is, “This is not the history we learned in school.” Another participant in Saskatchewan said, “We need to listen to the stories (from First Nations and from ‘us’.) We will find common ground….Many of us feel afraid to make changes, I think. We need to move out of our comfort zones….We need to be forging relationships and listen to how we can work together. We need to follow through on their invitations to us to get to know them.”
The Blanket Exercise is sponsored by the Outreach Team of the Walking With Our Sisters K’ómoks Organizing Committee and hosted by the Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health Outreach Team. Walking With Our Sisters, a memorial installation that honours missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, generates awareness through the display of 1,810 handmade pairs of moccasin tops in a solemn sacred space. Walking With Our Sisters K’ómoks is honoured to bring this memorial to the K’ómoks Band Hall, 3320 Comox Road, Courtenay, BC. It is the first British Columbia venue for this nationwide event. Open to the public, the event is free and runs from July 31–August 15, 2015. For more information please visit www.wwoscomoxvalley.com.
Submitted and written by Carol Sheehan